2018 Candidate Questionnaire
Rep. James Albis (incumbent)
Democrat – 99th House District (East Haven)
BACKGROUND: The Alliance represents community nonprofits across Connecticut that serve over 500,000 people, employ 198,000 and spend $29 billion annually in Connecticut’s economy. Nonprofits contribute to our state’s communities, economy and quality of life; they support the developmentally disabled, feed the hungry, provide behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, and help prisoners re-enter their communities. Nonprofits also enrich the state through art and culture — providing visual arts and performances and preserving our state’s historical landmarks.
QUESTION: What has been your experience with nonprofits in your community?
First of all, both my wife and I work for non-profit organizations – I work for the Connecticut Green Building Council which promotes sustainable building practices, and my wife works for the Foundation For Fair Contracting which protects workers against wage theft. We certainly see the value in non-profit organizations contributing to our state and communities.
Additionally, I have worked with several non-profits in and around the East Haven community. I have been a staunch supporter of BHCare, based in Branford, which provides behavioral health services for this region. During budget negotiations I make a point to check in with BHCare regarding DDS grant programs that affect their services and push for additional funding if needed.
I have worked directly with the non-profit Shoreline Trolley Museum, located in East Haven and Branford, to secure $2.75 million in state bonding over several years for site infrastructure improvements. Much of the Shoreline Trolley Museum is located in a flood zone, and a large percentage of the trolleys in their collection were damaged in Tropical Storm Irene and Superstorm Sandy. With the aforementioned bonding, the Museum has constructed a facility above the flood plain to store its trolleys in case of major flooding events, and is now in the process of upgrading water infrastructure to improve fire protection and provide bathrooms in these facilities.
I have also visited several group homes in East Haven and the surrounding region and I recognize the important service they provide to people and families in our community.
BACKGROUND: Community services for people in need are funded by state government through contracts, grants, and the Medicaid. At least half of the state budget comprises “fixed costs” that the state must pay – for example, post-employment obligations and bonded indebtedness. The “fixed” portion of the budget increases each year. Cuts in the portion of the budget that remains have caused significant reductions in funding for nonprofits and harm to the people they serve. When faced with cuts, nonprofits cannot raise taxes or prices, forcing them to cut services, lay-off employees or close programs. This is a model that cannot sustain itself – and it puts Connecticut’s quality of life at risk. The Alliance has argued that nonprofit services should be treated as if they are “fixed costs.”
QUESTION: If elected, how will you prioritize providing services to Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents? In the face of budget constraints, what changes will you fight for to ensure adequate funding for these services?
I think we need to prioritize our social safety net, where non-profits provide a crucial role. Aside from providing essential services, non-profits and non-profit services contribute a significant amount to our state’s economy and if we continue to pass austerity budgets we risk further damaging our economy. I will fight for fair revenue options that have little to no impact on the middle and working class that will help to ensure we can continue providing non-profit services at the current level or are able to expand services through more grant opportunities for non-profits.
BACKGROUND: Nonprofits are exempt from paying taxes by state and federal law. Nonprofits do not pay federal and state corporate income taxes for their charitable activities, donations to nonprofits are tax deductible, and nonprofits are exempt from Connecticut’s sales tax and local property taxes. Recently, there have been efforts at all levels of government to weaken the tax-exempt status of nonprofits, most notably at the local level.
QUESTION: Do you support nonprofit tax exemptions? Why or why not? Would you support legislation to protect or clarify tax exemptions for nonprofits? Why or why not?
Yes, I support non-profit tax exemptions. In many cases, non-profits are struggling to make ends meet, and tax exemptions help to keep non-profits afloat. I’d be interested in learning more about legislation to protect or clarify such tax exemptions and would be inclined to support such legislation as long as it made sure that it protected the spirit of what a non-profit is.
BACKGROUND: Even though community nonprofits deliver more than 90% of residential services to people with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) and 60% of clients served by Local Mental Health Authorities in Connecticut, the State continues to operate some of these services itself, with state-operated facilities staffed by state employees. The State and nonprofits provide the same services, but nonprofits do so at half of the cost. For example, the average annual cost to serve an individual with I/DD living in a state-operated group home is $265,000. The cost for a community nonprofit to provide the same service is just $113,000. This means that government funding can serve more people if those services are provided by nonprofits.
QUESTION: If elected, would you support converting more state-operated services to the nonprofit sector? If not, how would you ensure that state funding is able to help more people?
I would need to know more about this. On one hand, I’ve read a lot about how privatization often leads to more negative outcomes (here is one example). However, I recognize that the example I gave and many of the examples I have read about are apples to oranges when it comes to the circumstances we are discussing here. My initial inclination is that I would rather look for fair revenue options to bolster our ability to fund existing programs executed by non-profits rather than shift entirely to non-profits, but I’m happy to learn more, especially if we can ensure that the quality of service is at par or improved, workers are fairly compensated, and there is a high level of transparency in non-profit programming.
BACKGROUND: The nonprofit arts and culture community enhances Connecticut’s quality of life. The arts make our communities better places to live and work – they create jobs, generate revenue, and are key considerations when families and businesses are thinking of locating in our state. A recent study found that Connecticut’s nonprofit arts and culture sector generates $797 million in annual economic activity for the state, supporting over 23,000 jobs and generating $72 million in local and state tax revenue.
QUESTION: How do your plans to grow Connecticut’s economy include our arts and cultural offerings?
I think arts and culture offer significant economic opportunities. I’d like to figure out how we can ensure that there are more opportunities to grow the non-profit arts and culture sector, particularly when it comes to transit-oriented development and creating more walkable communities.
The Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance (The Alliance) is Connecticut’s statewide association of community nonprofits. Our members deliver essential services to more than half a million people each year and employ almost 14% of Connecticut’s workforce. To inform nonprofit professionals, staff, clients and volunteers, The Alliance is asking candidates to complete this short five-question document. Completed will be published on our website, sent to our network of thousands of CT voters, and included at our Annual Conference.